ORONO — Murphy Burnatowski came to the University of Maine to pursue basketball at the Division I level.
Next week, he’ll have a chance to show some of his old friends what kind of progress he has made during his first year in the United States.
Burnatowski, who hails from Waterloo, Ontario, is one of two Canadian players who will accompany the Black Bears to his home country next week for a five-game preseason exhibition tour.
“I think it’s awesome. We’re going to be playing against a lot of my old coaches and teammates, so to play against them again is going to be fun,” Burnatowski said Friday.
He and fellow sophomore Mike Allison of Lynen, Ontario, will serve as unofficial tour guides for coach Ted Woodward’s Black Bears.
UMaine is participating in a preseason foreign tournament allowed only once every four years by NCAA rules.
“It seems to be a good year to do it and we’re looking forward to going,” said Woodward, who begins his seventh season as the Bears’ head coach.
“You’re not going to be ready to play like you are in the middle of the season by any means, but at least you can carry on with some of the things that you worked on in the springtime and get yourself a little more ready for the fall,” he added.
UMaine, which returns 11 players — including four starters and nine regular contributors — begins play Aug. 24 against Bishop’s University in Lennoxville, Quebec, then plays Aug. 25 at McGill University in Montreal, Aug. 26 at the University of Quebec-Montreal, Aug. 28 at Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, and Aug. 29 at Laval University in Cite Universitaire, Quebec.
“We all still had a little bit of a bad taste from how we ended last season, so we were all eager to get back here,” said senior Sean McNally of Gardiner, referring to the Bears’ quarterfinal exit from the America East tournament.
“It’s going to be a good bonding experience for our team and it’s going to be a great way to kick off our season,” he added.
UMaine has been together in Orono since Sunday, when it began formal team practices in preparation for the trip. The head start has enabled the Bears to integrate their two new players into the mix.
“We have two new members, Rahim [Singleton] and Alasdair [Fraser]. They’re both integral parts of our team, so I think this will be great for all of us to go out there, play together before the season starts and it’ll help us in a couple months.”
Of course, the basketball experience will be supplemented by the chance to visit some of Canada’s best-known metropolitan areas.
“This is as much of a great cultural experience for them as anything, so we’re looking forward to it,” said Woodward, who has recruited extensively in Canada.
“Some of us are very familiar with the places we’re going to, but for a lot of guys it will be a new experience,” he said.
McNally plans to get the most out of the trip on all counts.
“I’ve heard Quebec City and Montreal are real nice places to be, so I hope once we get there and get settled we can go out into the town and look at stuff,” McNally said.
Burnatowski proclaimed himself ready to go after taking the summer off from basketball and dealing with a bout of mononucleosis.
“I have family in Montreal which I think are going to come out to some of the games, so it should be good,” he said.
UMaine took a similar trip in 2003, which under former NCAA rules was taken in October, and Woodward said it left a lasting impression.
“When we did it last time, it was wonderful,” Woodward said. “Our guys had a great time.”
UMaine women’s soccer to open
The UMaine women’s soccer team will open its 2010 season with a four-game trip up and down the East Coast.
Coach Scott Atherley’s Black Bears begin the season Sunday with a 4 p.m. game at Iona. UMaine continues on to The Bronx, N.Y., for a Tuesday contest at Fordham, before heading to Charleston, S.C.
The Bears, tabbed to finish five in the America East preseason coaches poll, face Charleston Southern on Aug. 27 and cap their trip Aug. 29 at The Citadel.
UMaine (9-5-3 in 2009) returns six starters, including senior midfielder Kelsey Wilson of Gorham and sophomore goalkeeper Meagan Price-Leibenzeder.